Rowland's Destructive Game Continues:


Outline of Events, Photos Gallery, Press Coverage

Outline updated 4/15/09
In fall 2003, Pleasant Rowland's Aurora Foundation LLC purchased and moved Webb House to a "temporary" location. She had assured the original owners that the structure would be relocated to another site the following spring.

This move was made with no permits. None whatsoever. And Webb House remained in its unapproved location for three years, raised on steel beams: a dangerous, uninhabitable, illegal structure in violation of zoning code and all common sense.

In the summer 2004, the LLC filed for a demolition permit to tear down Lake House (an adjacent property owned by Wells College), so that neighboring Webb House could be put in its place. At a public hearing in July, 35 people spoke against the Lake House demolition and 4 spoke in favor. The public wanted to save this unpretentious structure, one of the few remaining outbuildings of the village's lakeside mansions, which for about 60 years had given the community affordable housing with four 1-bedroom apartments.

Faced with this strong opposition, the LLC asked for postponements of the Community Preservation Panel's demolition decision in August, September, and October of 2004, and then apparently abandoned the idea.

But in February 2005, the LLC proposed demolishing Lyon House instead, the gracious and distinctive 100-year old mansion which Lake House once served. This outrageous proposal seemed a clear attempt to "punish" the villagers for trying to save Lake House.

(Pleasant bought back Lyon House for Wells College for $185,000 in 2003, a few years after the college had sold it off for $112,000. Having made this investment, the LLC then failed to winterize the structure. Pipes burst, causing water damage which went unrepaired. The house is structurally sound and historically significant, but it has been allowed to sit empty and rot for three years; see photos,)

In June 2005, the Community Preservation Panel voted unanimously to refuse permission to demolish Lyon House. This was the first -- and so far the only -- time any village agency refused to comply with Rowland's will.

Finally, in fall of 2005 the Village Code Enforcement Officer issued orders to remedy the situation of the illegal structure, Webb House. These were ignored by Rowland; no fines were imposed. A second deadline to remedy came and went in February 2006: Rowland did nothing and the CEO and Village did not act.

Immediately thereafter an "independent" purchaser -- C.J. Koepp -- came forward and offered to do just what Pleasant wanted done in the first place: destroy Lake House and move Webb House into its place. (Previously, Koepp had tried to purchase Lyon House from its faculty owner, but unfortunately Wells exercised its "buy back" clause and disallowed the sale.)

A public hearing took place on April 5, 2006 to consider, once again, the demolition of Lake House. More questions were raised than were answered. And all the neighboring property owners publicly objected to the project. But the next month the Community Preservation Panel approved the demolition of the now deteriorating Lake House, from which the college had evicted all residents two years ago so the apparment building could sit vacant and fall apart.

In June 2006, the Planning Board gave conditional approval to the prospective buyer of Lake and Webb Houses to demolish the former and move the later into its place if they could produce a purchase contract and only after final site plans for the project had been submitted, reviewed, and approved. The Village's lawyer directed the Planing Board to set those conditions.

Later that month, a suit was brought against Webb House relocation proposal.

In the midst of all this, David Kirk offered to buy the grand, rapidly deteriorating Lyon House (
photos) from the college. The college made the negotiations so difficult that he withdrew his offer the day before it was scheduled to be presented in a public hearing on August 9, 2006.

At the September Planning Board meeting of 9/13/06, more plans were presented, but they were neither "final," nor presented for comment in a public hearing, nor approved by the board. Shortly thereafter, a Cayuga County Judge dismissed the lawsuit

Later that month, C.J. Koepp got a demolition permit for Lake House from Code Enforcement Officer Doug Staley even though she had not yet met the required conditions.  No final site plan had been submitted, reviewed, or approved.  

(She even might have obtained the permit before she finally purchased the house from Wellls College that fall for $25,000, a mere 26% of its assessed value.)

Nevertheless... on November 2, 2006, Lake House Apartments was demolished! It seems that this was done without a properly issued demolition permit. Photos here.

Then -- after the irreversible act of demolition -- the Planning Board announced that the final site plan review for the project to relocate Webb House on the Lake House lot would be held on November 8th!!! New, previously unsubmitted site plans were approved at that meeting, but with significant contingencies -- a property easement, DOT permission and DEC approval are still required. Will these conditions also be ignored, as in the case of the demolition permit? Will the work again move ahead without proper authorization?

Of course: work began on 11/13/06 to move Webb House and dig its foundation with no building permit posted at the work site.

Then came the floods. On November 16, improper procedures during the Webb House move broke a major storm drain / gully stream culvert that runs downhill from up-country, goes under Route 90, and empties into the Lake. Flood photos here.  

the house was placed on top to the damaged culvert, without  permission or approval from the DOT.

In December 2006, after three years of rejecting, ignoring, or discouraging all potential buyers for Lyon House, owner Wells College emailed its faculty to announce that the property was going on the market. The public was invited to tour the building on Sunday, January 7th and submit a bid to VP Diane Hutchinson by January 22.

And six months after being repositioned, Webb House in April 2007 was far from settled. It clearly appeared elevated higher than the variance permitted. Department of Transportation officials have been at the site several times, but to date there is no approved plan on file for safely relocating the gully run-off storm drain which broke during the move.

Lyon House was sold for $187,500 to a couple from NYC (exclusive So-Ho realtor Paddington Zwigard and architect Todd Zwigard), as reported in the Property Transfers of The Citizen of May 6, 2007.

From April '06 through July of '07, a neighboring resident submited several written complaints about work being done on Webb House that may not have been approved by the Planning Board or the Community Preservation Panel, and about excavation done at Lyon House without any permits issued to then owner Wells College.

On July 3, 2007, the Village Attorney advised that he had "no recollection" of the PB or CPP approving an addition on the north of Webb House, and if his "memory is correct," the code enforcement officer "must order a work stop on this addition immediately." Nevertheless, construction continued.

A stop work order was issued -- finally -- on July 26.

However... at its August 2007 meeting, the Community Preservation Panel -- an appointed board of our local government which must require a certificate of appropriateness for any significant change to an exterior architectural feature in the village -- retroactively approved all the admittedly illegal being done work at Webb House with no such certificates.

A first-hand detailed account of this bizarre meeting is available.

The new owner of Lyon House began a welcome a 18-month renovation of the historic home, during which she obtained unique permission to use public property
to install a heat exchange system in the lake and seriously damaged a Village Park. 

In the fall of 2008, the new Lyon House owner then joined with the owners of Webb House in bringing a lawsuit to claim
the lakefront behind their houses (which was purchased directly from the railway company by the Hollands approximately 30 years ago).

Paddington Zwigard, the new owner of Lyon House, has become the exclusive real estate agent for Pleasant Rowland's houses in Aurora and become an incorporated partner with Wells President Lisa Marsh Ryerson in owning and operating a local antique store.

And now, in the spring of 2009, it appears that the DOT will have to correct the culvert mess created by our Village's Mayor, Code Officer, and Planning Board acting in collusion with the owners of Webb House, by seizing private property and relovating a stream, all at the expense of NYS taxpayers.

Three Years of Press Coverage - in chronological order
Aurora disputes fate of complex, August 30, 2004.

Fate of Lake House Apartment put on hold, September 2, 2004.

Lake House vote postponed again, October 7, 2004.

Aurora Considers Demoltion Permit, April 5, 2005

Lyon House's fate on agenda, June 1, 2005 Panel Saves Lyon House, June 2, 2005

Finding a house a home, June 13, 2005

Aurora to hold project hearings, March 25, 2006

Grand old house may be moved again, April 3, 2006

Lake House future still in limbo , April 6, 2006

The controversy continues , April 13, 2006

Rowland created eyesore, broken promises, April 22, 2006

Building Proposal Raises Tensions in Aurora, April 26 2006

In Aurora, historic is debatable, April 27, 2006

Webb House talks continue in Aurora, May 25, 2006

Webb House moves closer, May 25, 2006

Demolition Permit Approved, Pproperty Sale Selays Action,June 9, 2006

Webb House Closer to Moving,June 10, 2006

Another Change in Aurora, June 15, 2006

Family sues to raze old house, June 25, 2006

Webb House Tangled in Suit, July 4, 2006

In other news (see end of article), August 17, 2006

Aurora Disputes Fate of Comples, August 30, 2006

Webb House plans OK'd, November 9, 2006.

Demise of the Lake House apartments, November 13, 2006

Webb House is homebound, November 21, 2006

Food for Thought
Webb House could have been relocated away from Lake House, away from the problematic storm drain, away from the congested jam of the Lodge, Lyon, and Holland Houses. Read the recent account of a 3 story, 4200 square foot house bought for $1 and moved intact over 3 miles in urban Maryland for $100,000. See a journal about the project, and visit the company that did the work. Houses also can be dismantled for transport; see a New York Times article about an 11 room house moved from New Jersey all the way to Indiana. And houses can even be moved by barge over water!

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This page last updated April 15, 2009.